Viewpoint: Less about trust than fear

The historic "America's First Elizabethan Theatre" sign welcomes visitors to Oregon Shakespeare Festival's landmark outdoor theatre. Graham Lewis photo
August 15, 2022

Regarding the question, ‘Does OSF leadership trust Shakespeare?’

Wit, and’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits that think they have thee, do very oft prove fools;
and I that am sure I lack thee, may pass for a wise man.
For what says Quinapalus? Better a witty fool than a foolish wit. God bless thee, lady!

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 1 Scene 5 (Speaking to Olivia)

By James P. Garrett and Diedre Badejo

Regarding Mr. Rothschild’s opinion (Relocations column, Aug. 12, “Let’s talk about OSF”): Although the opinion opens with a position that Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s major problem is its lack of trust for Shakespeare, it offers no evidence or discussion of such lack of trust.

Instead, the major focus of the attack is on OSF’s choice of productions (by the artistic director), its outsized focus on experimentation, and on the directors who fail in “inferior” contemporary plays (many of which arrive as prize-winning) because their egos diminish their productive efforts.

The writer knows or should know that many major Shakespeare festival organizations merge the traditional with the contemporary. Going back to its beginnings in 1967, New York’s Shakespeare in the Park, under the leadership the iconic Joe Papp, often updated plays, altering settings, style and casting. England’s Stamford Shakespeare Theatre has, for many seasons, employed BBC comedic personalities to direct and perform Shakespeare’s comedies.

The piece also asserts that while other Shakespeare festivals focus directly on production of the “Bard’s” works, the OSF does not.

The writer must have been exposed to the reality that while some annual festivals are Shakespeare exclusive, others feature few of the Bard’s plays. This season, the Colorado Shakespeare Festival features three plays by Shakespeare and two by Ben Jonson. Pennsylvania boasts nine productions, one by Shakespeare. Utah has 13 productions, three by Shakespeare. (Utah’s focus for 2022 is on plays written by Victor Hugo.) Many of Europe’s annual Shakespeare festivals not only focus on modern experimental plays and avant-garde directors, but some venues are offering no plays by the Bard (i.e., Belgium and Holland).

The quote from “Twelfth Night” above is used to illuminate the “Foolish Wit” of one who possesses high intelligence (in Elizabethan English) but uses that wit for nefarious purposes. One who intentionally uses their intellect to obfuscate/confuse what might be the reader’s lack of information. One who “foolishly” tries to hide their fear of replacement (gender, ethnic and class diversity) by weaponizing an overwrought level of “wit.”

The discussion herein seems to be less about the level of trust in Shakespeare and more about fear of the successful, creative leadership of OSF.

James P. Garrett, PhD., J.D. and Diedre Badejo, D. Litt., Dean/Professor Baltimore University (Emeritus).

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